Our decision to visit the Svalbard Island and the Arctic Pole dates back a few years. A destination which is not easy to reach, as many are the things to take into consideration before choosing the more suitable trip. We did not want this to be a proper cruise, one of those cruises in large comfortable boats which offers you the maximum confort but, on the contrary, because of the size of the boat and the large number of passengers, does not take you in all those spots and angles a small ship would do.
For this reason, after a deep search, our choice went to a small Dutch vessel, the Rembrandt Van Rijn, able to accomodate 27 passengers and only 12 professional crew members. The ideal boat for us for a sailing ship voyage, reaching numerous fjords, glaciers and visiting amazing places in remote areas.
We will sail along the west and northwest cost of Spitsbergen. We will maKe several different types of excursions (different for length, difficulty and duration), using the zodiacs to reach and land on the shores.
After long flights from our home country, we finally reached the Longyearbyen airport located in the Svalbard Island. Longyearbyen, the capital city of Svalbard island is located the Isfyorden. It’s a small village of about 2000 inhabitants, most of them dedicated to tourism activities and island administration. The small airport connects the island to Norway, the motherland. There is no much traffic in the village, most people you meet are tourists who stop for a day or two before embarking or disembarking their cruises.
Once upon a time the main activity was the coal mines and you can still see tracks of it in the mountain around the village and a statue of a miner in the village center in memory of the many men who worked and died doing this job.
Here some peculiar things you will find in Longyearbien:
The day after our arrival in the village, at 4pm we were at Bykaia Port where our ship the Rembrandt Van Rijn was waiting for us to board and start our Polar adventure. We were welcome by the captain and all the crew and met those who were going to be our guides, Jordi and Adam, for the whole period as well as all the other 27 passengers coming from different world countries. After the “Safety and sea” briefing and “Abandon Ship” demonstration we were ready to sail.
The first night was a very rough sailing night, nevertheless early in the morning we are all up, ready for our breakfast in the small dining room.
After the mandatory briefings on several topics we are ready for our first excursion with the zodiacs, but first comes the dressing ritual which takes quite a long time: heavy jumpers, warm trousers, boots, parkas, gloves, wool caps, sunglasses and last but not least the safety vest. This is how we had to be ready and queue for embarking our zodiacs and leave for the three or four hours excursions: twice a day morning and afternoon!!!
There are strict regulations to observe living in the boat. One of these is showing your presence on the boat: hanged on wall close to the zodiacs exit there is a billboard with all passengers name and a magnet closed to each name. When you go out on excursion you move your magnet in the “Out” space, when you return and enter the boat you have to move the same magnet in the “In” space. If you forget doing this operation and go straight to your cabin….. your name will be called with loudspeaker to check your presence on boat and asked to rush and move the magnet!!!!!
POLAR DAY: full daylight all around the clock is a new great experience for us, used to our day and night life. It seems strange but being daylight for the 24 hours seems your daily activities never end and you are spurred to continue on your work. Morpheus never comes to you!!! This happens of course from March to October, when you have the total day with no light till the next month of March. Then it comes the opposite, always nighttime, all day long!
THE GLACIERS: we had the opportunity to visit and see closely many glaciers, such as the Murraybreen Glacier of great scenic beauty and located at the eastern side of Prince Charles Island; the Horusund Glacier, considered to be the largest one; the Smeerenbugbreen located in the same fjord in the NW corner; the Gullybreen glacier in the Magdalena fjord; the 14th of July glacier, name that pays homage to the French National Day and located in the Krossfjord.
THE ANIMALS: Many are the animals you come across during this trip. Apart from the Polar Bear, which deserves a special top place in the list, we saw the beautiful reindeer and my mind went immediately to Father Christmas and his sleigh and asking to myself: “which one of the 9 reindeers will be that one? maybe Dasher or Vixen or Rudolph??? We also see seals, walrus, foxes and many many birds of all species, some of them never seen before as they are endemic in the region.
HIS MAJESTY THE POLAR BEAR: The view of a female polar bear and her cub creates excitement on the ship. It’s 2 o’clock at night, we are all sleeping in our cabins when Jordi, our guide, gives the announcement on the loudspeaker: “Polar bear in the mountain left to our ship….. please come on the deck” In less then a minute we are all ready, dressed up someway, with our pajamas under the trousers and parkas ready with our binoculars to see the “scope of our cruise”. Meanwhile the crew prepare and launch the zodiacs so that we can board and go closer to these lovely creatures. We stopped sometime to admire them, shoot as many photos as possible. After a while the female and her baby decide to jump in the cold water, probably searching for something to eat for breakfast!!! What a lovely experience, we went back to our boat and our cabin but we could not go back to sleep because excited to see and share the photos we took of this lovely white creature!!!
NY ALESUND: it’s a cloudy raining afternoon when we disembark in Ny Alesund a small village in Kongsfjord, one of the most important places for the exploration of the North Pole. What is now an international research base, started as a coal mine settlement till 1962 when a serious mining accident happened in the mine killing many workers. From that came the decision to close definitely the mining activity. One main road leads you from the small port to the village and from the village square you can reach the 1926-28 airship mast used during the Norge/Italian airship expedition to fly over the North Pole.
THE ICE CATEGORIES: Sea Ice and Icebergs Ice comes into many forms and shapes. Could be Glaciers, Icebergs, Pack ice or Multi year ice. The DRIFT ICE is so called when sea water freezes forming the polar ice cap; it ‘s a floating platform and not anchored which roams floating following the sea currents. FAST ICE is the ice anchored to the coast or in small lakes or bay. It does not move but melts and forms again in the same place. In the Arctic region you can find all these kind of situations.
This Arctic Polar trip is, together with the Antarctic Expedition, the most interesting experiences I had in my life. Similar as tours but completely different in landscapes, nature, animals.
I close my article with a quote of Jean Baptiste Charcot :
“Where does the strange attraction of the polar region lie, so powerful, so gripping that on one’s return from them one forgets all weariness of body and soul and dreams only of going back? Where does the extraordinary charm of these deserted and terrifying regions lie? “